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Wandering from worship: What churches are doing to hold on to the next generation

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 12:30 p.m. MDT

"We're finding through some studies that only about 15 percent of (Catholic) kids going to college find the campus ministry programs," said Cozzens, chair of College Connection for Catholics, a non-profit group linking Catholic students with college ministries. "College is a place of sex, alcohol and drugs. We want (students) to have support so they avoid some of the pitfalls that are going to be a scar for life."

Making a faithful leap from high school to college can be problematic, which is why Cozzens keeps writing letters, and why Schadt founded Youth Transition Network, a non-profit that links students with youth ministries, Christian friends and roommates before they get to campus.

"A lot of our kids hit campus thinking it's going to be easy," Schadt says. "They're looking forward to freedom, but they're not forecasting the stress, loneliness and the need to be loved and accepted spiking through the roof in a way they've never felt before. It sends them into culture shock and they often bond to the very first thing that will meet those needs. Often it's not the most healthy option."

And because many young adults view their faith like a jacket, they simply take it off when it clashes with their new lifestyle, Powell says.

FYI's "College Transition Project" — a longitudinal study of 500 youth group graduates over three years of college — found that many of them defined faith as a list of behaviors, rather than a "gospel of grace that flows into behaviors," Powell said. "They don't realize that faith is so much more than a jacket."

Which is why religious leaders must emphasize — to children, teens and young adults — the power of faith within families and homes, as well as in their education and vocation, says Kinnaman.

"What's necessary," he says, "is helping these young adults recognize how faith matters in every sphere of life."

KEEPING FAITH ALIVE: Advice for adults

Focus on doctrine. Flashy activities may be fun in the moment, but they often lack foundational truth that helps youth become devoted to their faith.

Prepare for transitions. Talk to high school students about finding a church during college and help them get used to the adjustment by visiting other churches while they're still at home.

Share what you believe. Talk with your children often about your own faith journey and how you feel about God.

Walk the talk. If you're not excited about worshipping, or fail to live up to your own lectures, kids will see it. And they hate hypocrisy.

Get to know them. Youth who have positive relationships with adults at church besides their parents or youth minister are less likely to wander.

Involve youth in the ministry. Whether it's teaching Sunday School, playing with children in a nursery class or serving as ushers, help youth feel needed and appreciated as part of the church.

Be open to questions and concerns. Young adults are trying to make sense of the world around them and if they don't feel safe voicing their thoughts in church, they'll go elsewhere.

Source: Deseret News interviews

email: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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